TO LIVE or to die? That is the question.

Unbeknownst to many of us, we depend on honeybees to survive. In 1965, Albert Einstein stated that, “If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe, then man would have only four years of life left. No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man.”

Yet through lack of awareness and education about the bee’s value, its sustainability, and our lives with it, the honeybee population is dying. And many countries around the world are scrambling to restore it.

Honeybees pollinate roughly $15 billion in food crops in the U.S. alone each year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and they are responsible for one in every three bites of food we consume. But last year, Virginia lost 60 percent of its bees, and we’re not the only state to experience this tremendous loss.

The situation is so dire that in 2016 President Obama, through the Environmental Protection Agency, implemented laws to protect honeybees and encourage more widespread growth and colony restoration.

The Virginia Bee Law protects and works to increase our bee population, and in 2012, Virginia started a beehive grant program providing free bees and equipment to anyone over 18 years old. There are no minimum property sizes or zoning involved.

Keith Tignor, the state apiarist (“Bee Czar”) of the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, travels across Virginia to educate our population on the value of bees, help counties adopt best practices for beekeeping, and eliminate “old wives tales” around the perception of bees as nuisance insects.

Virginia’s Pollinator Protection Best Management Practices for Beekeepers provides practical guidance to ensure peaceful cohabitation with bees. We clearly need the bees more then they need us!

Unfortunately, though, many people fear bees. In the United States, deaths caused by honeybees are so low they aren’t even tracked. For example, in 2018, there were 60 deaths from all bees, wasps, and hornets, far less than those from storms—and we have had a lot of storms!

Bees are harmless in general, and especially when they are swarming, when they can’t attack anybody. That’s because bees at that time are laden with honey and unable to do anything except find a home quickly to deposit it.

Stafford County is currently revising its beekeeping ordinances and can set a new standard to improve human cohabitation with bees, but also improve our society as a whole.

Some of our peer counties are quite restrictive when it comes to bees, based on oudated information.

Although we typically don’t compare ourselves to Arlington County, it is far more densely populated and less restrictive regarding bees than our other peers throughout the commonwealth.

Stafford should replace its ordinances to improve the quality of life for flora and fauna and for our communities. Such a profound opportunity doesn’t happen very often.

Beekeeping should be allowed anywhere that conforms to the best practices recommended by the commonwealth’s apiarist.

Matching our code to the Commonwealths Best Management Practices, which follow the latest science, to help preserve our food supply may “bee” all the regulation we need to gain harmony with ourselves and this powerful workhorse of an insect.

In this case, less is more.

Cindy Shelton is a member of the Stafford Board of Supervisors representing the Aquia District. This commentary reflects her personal views and does not represent the Stafford County Board of Supervisors or its employees.

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